Friday, March 30, 2007

A heartfriendly warm buckwheat and mushroom salad

You're all familiar with rice, and many of you have used pearl barley, cous cous, bulghur wheat and quinoa in your kitchen. But what about buckwheat? Buckwheat flour makes an appearance in Japanese soba noodles, in French galettes de sarrasin, and in Russian blini pancakes. Yet I suspect that buckwheat groats are less common even amongst well-informed food bloggers. Yes, there is Clotilde with her recipe for Buckwheat Salad with Honey Spice Cake, and Gerda with a recipe for exotic Buckwheat Curry. But other than that, Elise's fabulous recipe search across foodblogs only yields recipes using buckwheat flour.

Yet buckwheat groats definitely deserve a place at your kitchen table, at least occasionally. They're unusual and different, hence interesting. Buckwheat is naturally gluten-free, the groats have a lovely nutty flavour and tender texture - and they're good to your vascular system. What's not to like!? Buckwheat porridge is widely known here in Estonia - either as a dish on its own, or as a side dish instead of potatoes or rice. To make things easier, you can even buy pre-cooked buckwheat flakes these days, which make a lovely breakfast porridge.

Here, however, is a main dish I came up with last week. I wasn't sure what to call it in the beginning. It's not a stew, as although it's moist, there's no liquid to hold the components together and warrant the name. It's not a buckwheat 'risotto', as there's no element of creaminess. So I decided to go with a 'warm salad'. I served it with thin, long slices of crunchy carrot, but some spicy salad leaves would make a good accompaniment, too.

A warm buckwheat and mushroom salad
(Soe tatra-seenesalat)
Serves 4

1 Tbsp canola oil
200 ml buckwheat groats
2 carrots, coarsely grated
1 onion, finely chopped
0.5 tsp salt
0.5 tsp black pepper
500 ml water
a generous handful of fresh parsley, chopped
1 Tbsp canola oil
300 grams of mushrooms (a mixture of champignons, oyster mushrooms, chantarelles etc), coarsely chopped

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and add the buckwheat. Stir for a minute, until the groats are glistening with oil. Add the onion and carrots, reduce heat and fry gently for a few minutes, until onion has softened a little. Do not burn!
Season with salt and pepper, add the boiling water. Cover and let simmer for about 15 minutes, until the groats are al dente or tender, if you prefer.
Meanwhile, fry the chopped mushrooms in oil, until they're wilted and slightly browned.
Add the fried mushrooms to the buckwheat porridge, stir gently to combine. Sprinkle generously with parsley and serve.

Earlier @ Nami-nami:
Buckwheat and mushroom oven pie (September 2005)

This is also my entry to the Weekend Herb Blogging, this time hosted by Anh from Food Lover's Journey.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Waiter, there's something in my ... Easter basket!

The third round of Waiter, there is something in my... is hosted by my dear friend Johanna, and the theme is Easter basket. Johanna wants us to share

"with us and the wider food blogging community anything that yells "Easter!" at you, be it that honey-glazed ham or herb-crusted spring lamb that is traditionally made in your neck of the woods, a gorgeous chocolate torte that you've tucked into every year since you can remember, your granny's famous hot cross buns or a brioche loaf sprinkled with rock sugar..."

So, what will be in our Easter basket here in Tallinn, Estonia? Of course there will be the Estonian Easter pudding pashka, a pressed milk curd dessert with raisins, which I prefer to make with dried cranberries (or 'craisins') instead, as these make the pashka look like it's studded with red jewels:) Here's what I made a year ago in Edinburgh:

As I wrote last year, then Easter indeed means eggs in Estonia, but not necessarily of the chocolate kind. Indeed, it's barely over a week until Easter, and I haven't seen any prominently placed over-sized chocolate eggs in the supermarkets at all!! Still, there will definitely be lots of eggs on the table - mostly dyed lovely brown with the help of onion skins (see the photo above) - I much prefer those to the bright artificially coloured eggs. If you've got visitors during Easter, then you exchange coloured eggs with them - the prettier, the better, of course.

There's also a special game we play with those eggs - munakoksimine. First you make a wish - and keep it to yourself, of course. Then you hold an egg in your palm and tap the top of the egg against the top of the other person's eggs, trying to crack the opponent's egg. If you succeed, then you win the game and your secret wish comes true. It's essential, however, that your own egg stays intact and uncracked!!! There are lots of tricks how to enhance the changes of your egg not cracking (I've learned them from my dear dad), but I'm not sharing them here, as I've got plenty of secret wishes to make in the upcoming weeks :)

[PS Just read from Johanna's entry that this activity is called "egg dumping" or "egg jarping" in England (see Wikipedia). My Estonian-English dictionary was obviously outdated. Oh well... (30.3.2007)]

I may also have some soft-boiled quails' eggs, seated on a carpet of chopped dill and dopped with some lightly salted whitefish/bleak roe (on the left). The combination of runny egg yolk and popping fish roe in your mouth is quite outstanding, as we realised again when snacking on these on Monday night..

In addition to having eggs in every size and colour in my Easter basket, there are quite a few baked Easter goodies I can see myself making this year.

For the last two years, I've baked a Greek Easter bread, tsoureki, which is a heavenly scented plaited bread with the unusual gum mastic and crushed mechlebe. As I've still got some of those spices left, I'll be making it again:

I'm also hoping to make the high Russian Easter bread kulitch this year. My Nordic neighbour Antti made a tempting kulitch last year, and I need to catch up with him. (Antti, maybe we should have a kulitsa cook-off?? :)

I think that's all I'll be arranging into my Easter basket this year..

UPDATE 3.4.2007: Check out Johanna's round-up post.

Here are links to my previous Waiter there is something in my ... entries:

February 2007 (PIE, hosted by Jeanne) : a great Russian puff pastry and fish pie, Salmon Kulebyaka - which would also look great on the Easter table.

January 2007 (STEW, hosted by Andrew): my version (in collaboration with Anthony Bourdain:) of the French lassic
Boeuf Bourguignon - which is probably too hearty now that Spring is in the air, but I'll be definitely making it again, and again, when the days will start getting shorter and darker.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Apple muffins on a spring evening

I guess I shouldn't really post a recipe for apple muffins this time of the year. After all, there's no more apples from my mum's garden left, and I cannot bring myself to buy those imported expensive, tasteless, waxy-shiny apples in the supermarket. However, as my uncle brought us a bag full of organic apples last week, you'll get yet another delicious recipe for an apple cake and a recipe for simple apple muffins this week. Hope you don't mind..

In terms of texture and taste, these muffins remind me of my Canadian apple cake. The recipe below yields 12 European-sized muffins. (I don't really know if there's such a thing as a 'European sized muffin pan', but whenever I use an American recipe that states that it'll make 6 muffins, I actually get 12 muffins with my muffin pan. If you've got one of those American muffin pans that makes six huge muffins, then increase the baking time accordingly.)

I've made these two nights in a row now. Let me remind you that there are just two people in our household and I only eat 2 muffins for breakfast and 2 for the evening snack. You can do the math...

Apple muffins

150 grams butter, softened
200 ml sugar
2 eggs
3 tsp vanilla sugar
400 ml plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
0.5 tsp ground cinnamon
100 ml milk or water

a cup of chopped apples (cored, no need to peel)

Cream butter with sugar, then add eggs one by one.
Mix the dry ingredients, sift into the butter-sugar-egg mixture, fold gently until almost combined.
Add apple chunks and milk/water, mix slightly.
Divide into prepared muffin tins (i.e. either lined with paper forms or greased with butter). Sprinkle with demerara sugar and some cinnamon.
Bake at 225C for 15 minutes, until the muffins are golden brown and well-risen.

Other apple cakes @ Nami-nami:
Grated apple cheesecake
Canadian apple cake
Simple apple traybake
Toffee apple cake with cranberries

Other muffins @ Nami-nami:
Savoury muffins with beetrot and blue cheese
Savoury muffins with feta cheese and sun-dried tomatoes
Dark chocolate and cherry muffins
Dark chocolate and chilli muffins
Cocoa and raspberry muffins

Monday, March 26, 2007

Roasted chicken with curry rub

My dad celebrated his birthday on Saturday, and my mum had asked us to bring a cake (K. made a rather wonderful tiramisu to feed 16 guests), and a salad. Any self-respecting Estonian birthday party has a large bowl of kartulisalat or potato salad (known as Russian salad in many places, which is a version of the famous Salad Olivier), so I didn't bother to do that, as my mum would make one anyway. Instead I offered to make something more exotic - a mayonnaise and sour cream based salad of rice and curried chicken. The offer was kindly accepted (and the salad quickly eaten, I'm happy to report).

In order to make that salad, however, I needed half of a curry-roasted chicken. That's why we had roasted chicken with curry rub for dinner on Friday night. Easy-peasy..

Note that I didn't baste the chicken with any liquid during roasting, nor is there any fat as such (no oil, no butter) in the marinade - indeed, it's practically a fat-free marinade. Yet the resulting chicken was moist and succulent.

Roasted chicken with curry rub
Adapted from Woman's Day Magazine, April 2000

3-4 pound roasting chicken, giblets (if any) removed

Curry rub:
2 Tbsp curry powder
1.5 tsp salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp freshly ground cumin seeds
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 lemon, halved
4 Tbsp sour cream or plain yogurt

Rinse the chicken under the cold water (Delicious Days had recently an interesting post about the pros and cons of washing meat - check it out!). Dry thoroughly with a kitchen paper, as otherwise the rub won't stick. Place on a roasting tray.
Prepare the curry rub. Mix curry powder, salt, ginger and cumin seeds, add crushed garlic cloves, about 2 Tbsp of lemon juice and the sour cream or yogurt, so you'll get a thick paste.
Put lemon halves into the body cavity of the chicken.
'Massage' the curry paste all over the chicken, so it would be well covered.
Place the roasting tray into the lower part of a pre-heated oven and roast at 180C for about an hour.
To test if the chicken is cooked, insert a sharp knife into the thickest part of the thigh and check that the meat juice runs clear and not pink (if it's still pink, put into the oven for another 10 minutes and test again).
Take the chicken out of the oven, and let it rest for about 10 minutes before carving.
Serve with rice and cooked green vegetables.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Fresh maple sap and pretty apples

No, it's not a picture of a glass of water and two random apples.

My mum's little brother Ants popped by on Tuesday night to discuss some business. I mention it here, because he brought us a large bag of perfect-looking apples from his farm in Paluküla (yep, the same place I go to look for honey-coloured cloudberries, tiny wild strawberries and enticing wild mushrooms). Some of the apples were promptly turned into tarte tatin, as we had some pastry left over after making red onion and feta tart, and we're still happily munching through the rest.

But even more exciting food gift was a large bottle of fresh maple sap my uncle had extracted from a maple tree in his farm. Although I tend to prefer birch sap over maple one, this was delicious and refreshing, and a sure reminder that spring has arrived. Just drink it instead of your usual glass of water or juice! In Estonian we indeed even call it 'vahtramahl' or 'maple juice'.

Note that it's not the same maple sap that is used for making maple syrup in Northern America. Only sugar maple (Acer saccharum) or black maple (Acer nigrum) produce suitably sweet sap for that purpose. The Estonian native maple tree is of the Norway maple (Acer platanoides) species, and although the sap is sweet (tastes like a mild sugar water we sometimes used to drink as kids), then it's not sweet enough for turning into a good-quality syrup.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

On neighbourly relations, and a feta and red onion tart

I've never met Rosmariini (= Rosemary = she) & Pippurimylly (= Pepper Mill = he), the couple behind the Finnish-language Pastanjauhantaa blog, but I think we'd like each other, if we did. We've got a pretty similar taste in food, you see, and keep recreating recipes from one another's blogs. Pippurimylly was inspired by my posts for the slowly braised Dutch beef dish, draadjesvlees (see here) ; the small feta and spinach omelettes (see here); and most recently my savoury blue cheese and beetroot muffins (see here). And vice versa - it works the other way around, too. I've knicked many recipe ideas from the neighbouring Finns (for example, roasted asparagus with Parmesan and numerous other weekday dinners that I haven't blogged about) . But that's what good neighbours are for, isn't it??

In late February Rosmariini wrote about a feta and red onion quiche that I simply had to make, and last night I did, with some small adaptations. I now have two favourite red onion pies - the feta and red onion tart here, and the Upside-down Red Onion Pie by Nigella. The original recipe uses a simple shortcrust pastry. I've recently found a pretty decent local puff pastry that I've been using (f. ex. for my salmon kulebyaka), so I opted for that, but feel free to use your favourite pâte brisée recipe (or use Pierre Hermé’s Perfect Tart Dough that Chubby Hubby praises).

Peeling onions for this tart is the most difficult task, which is to say that it's supereasy and very flavoursome - the salty feta cheese and sweet honey and earthy oregano melding wonderfully together. Feta cheese and the abundant use of dried oregano gives this tart a very Greek feel, which suits me just well, as I love Hellenic food.

Thanks again, Rosmariini, for the inspiration!!

Feta and red onion tart
Serves 6

500 grams puff pastry

500 grams smaller red onions (peeled weight, that's about 650 grams unpeeled)
2 Tbsp olive oil (from the canned feta)
1 tsp dried oregano
1 Tbsp honey
salt and freshly ground black pepper
300 grams feta cubes in olive oil
2 eggs
200 ml single cream

fresh parsley to garnish

Peel the onions, cut into half and then into thin slices.
Drain some of the oil from feta cheese onto the heavy-bottomed frying pan. Heat up and add the onions. Fry gently on a moderate heat for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly, until the onion has softened. Add oregano and honey, stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
Roll the puff pastry into a square (approx. 23 x 30 cm). Place in a tart tin, so the pastry goes slightly up the edges (you need raised edges to keep the filling inside).
Spread the fried and honeyed onions over the puff pastry, scatter feta cubes on top.
Whisk the eggs with the cream, pour over the filling.
Bake at 200C for about 25 minutes, until the eggy filling has set and the pastry is golden brown.

Transfer to a serving dish, scatter with lots of fresh parsley and serve.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A shy Danish peasant girl, or simply a lovely Estonian rye bread and cream pudding

Here is a very-very-very simple and delightful Estonian pudding. There's a saying in Estonian - 'heal lapsel mitu nime' which translates roughly as 'a loved child has many names'. This one is either known as 'häbelik taluneiu' - a shy peasant girl, or 'taani talutüdruk' - a Danish country girl (hence the title:). It's a bit like a trifle - after all, it's layered fruit and cream and a floury element. Makes a good alternative to the Scottish cranachan-pudding, which isn't so dissimilar either.

I usually have this small trifle with lingonberry jam (check your local IKEA:) or not-too-sweet apple jam. As we had none in the house last weekend, then K. quickly made some jam from the last of last autumn's apples that my Mum had given us, and some of the frozen cranberries I had picked myself. If you're trying to recreate this pudding, then don't by the coarse whole grain rye bread for this one, but a smoother dark bread (pumpernickel is fine though).

Rye bread and cream pudding
(Häbelik taluneiu)
Serves 4

300 ml grated sour rye bread
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp sugar
400 ml whipping cream (plus a teaspoon of sugar)
300-400 ml apple or lingonberry preserve

Heat the butter on a frying pan and fry the breadcrumbs and sugar for a few minutes, until browned and crispy. Remove from the heat and cool.
Whip the cream with a teaspoon or two of sugar until soft peaks form.
Layer the cream and bread mixture and jam into dessert bowls, garnish with some breadcrumbs.

Keep in the fridge until ready to serve (can be made up to 4 hours in advance) .

Monday, March 19, 2007

Cabbage rolls, only blue

Cabbage rolls are a winter-time staple in Estonian kitchens. Usually stuffed with a mixture of rice and mince, these are simmered in broth either on the stove or in the hot oven, and served with boiled potatoes and sour cream. That's indeed what I did - but inspired by an inspirational fellow foodblogger, I used a red cabbage for dramatic colour effect this time. They tasted just like the real thing, just looked blue:) Reminded me of the blue potato mash I used to make in Edinburgh..

Estonian Cabbage Rolls with Rice and Mince
Serves 4

a head of cabbage, about 700-900 grams
water and salt

75 grams of rice (uncooked weight)
300 grams minced pork or beef or a mixture of both
freshly ground black pepper
1 (red) onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 egg
fresh parsley and/or dill, chopped

about 300 ml boiling water or stock
25 grams butter

To serve:
boiled potatoes
sour cream

Cut off the thick stem of the cabbage and make an insertion with a knife around the remaining stem, which will make it easier to remove cabbage leaves. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, season with salt and put the cabbage into the water. Simmer for few minutes, then start removing leaves one by one, returning the cabbage into the water for a few minutes to soften remaining leaves every one and then.

At the same time, boil the rice in slightly salted water 'al dente'.
In a large bowl, mix the minced meat, onion, garlic and cooked rice. Add the egg and fresh herbs, season with salt and pepper.
Put a large spoonful of the mince mixture onto a cabbage leaf (see photo on the right), and wrap the leaf around the filling. If you wish, you can tie each cabbage roll with a kitchen string (see photo above), although that's not absolutely necessary.
Place the cabbage rolls into a heavy casserole dish/Dutch oven. If you've not tied the rolls with a string, then make sure you place them 'seam side' down. Pour over some boiling water or stock to come half-way up the cabbage rolls. Dot with some butter.
Bake at 200C for 50-60 minutes, until the meat filling has cooked through.
I tend to bake the rolls covered for the first 40 minutes and then remove the lid for the rest of the time, which allows the rolls to brown a little.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Copycat: Molly's bouchons au thon & emakeelepäev

Tuna omelets /Tuunikalaomletikesed

Today is emakeelepäev (pronounced ['emakeelepæev] - now there's a mouthful!) alias the day of the mother tongue in Estonia. It's the birth anniversary of Kristjan Jaak Peterson (1801-1822), the father of Estonian written poetry. Since 1999, this day has been marked by various events celebrating Estonian language, the mother tongue of just one million people. It's a beautiful language, closely related to Finnish, and more distantly to Hungarian (and not at all to Russian, Latvian, English and other Indo-European languages). Apparently it is a pretty difficult language to learn. We have a funny letter Õ in our language (as well as more familiar Ä, Ö and Ü), three degrees of phoneme lengths, no grammatical gender (the word for 'he' and 'she' is both 'tema', no distinction is made), our nouns and adjectives decline in 14 cases, we have no future tense, yet we've got two infinitives. You get the picture..

A former US Peace Corps guy, Douglas Wells, has written a funny account about The Origins of Estonian Language, describing his frustration about learning the language after five years' residency. Do read it, it's hilarious! And if you want a more serious overview of the language, then check out this article by the Estonian Institute.

Back to food now. We had a most delicious and simple dinner last night, courtesy of Orangette's Molly. Two years ago she posted a recipe for tuna mouthfuls, or bouchons au thon - a recipe she had brought back from her time in Paris. I bookmarked the recipe ages ago, but, as it often happens, didn't make them until much-much later. I was beaten to it by Michelle of Oswego Tea, and Zarah Maria of Food & Thoughts - both praised those tuna bouchons. You can officially add me to the list of your bouchons au thon fans, Molly!

Molly's bouchons au thon

1 can of tuna chunks in water (185 g), drained
3 Tbsp tomato purée
5 Tbsp sour cream
3 large eggs
200 g grated cheese
4 Tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 finely chopped small onion

Flake the tuna chunks into smaller pieces. Add the rest of the ingredients and give the mixture a good stir.
Divide the mixture between 12 muffin cups (I use a silicone muffin tray for this).
Bake in a preheated 165 C oven for 25-30 minutes, until the omelets have a golden and slightly crisp topping.
Serve with a fresh green salad.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Pumpkin soup: so pretty, so yellow

Pumpkin is a wonderfully forgiving vegetable. It patiently sits in the darkness of your larder (that also doubles as a garage in our house), waiting for months on end until you feel ready to use it. Every now and then there's hope that the end is near. I brought it into the kitchen for a few days in early January, planning to make Johanna's wonderful blue cheese and roasted pumpkin quiche again, but eventually took it back to its place in the garage. In early February, we had to move the pumpkin indoors again, as the temperatures fell way below -20ºC and we needed to make sure the pumpkin survived the coldwave. But still it didn't make it to the kitchen and was returned to the garage a few days later.

The pumpkin was finally brought into the warmth of our kitchen a week ago. The particular pumpkin in question - some 2.5 kg in weight, unpeeled - was given to us by K's mum last October. She wanted the seeds back, so she could grow new pumpkins in her allotment. As the spring is finally reaching the shores here, we decided it was time to return the pumpkin seeds to K's mum and do something with the pumpkin itself. It was nice to see that even if our pumpkin had been feeling a bit neglected over the last few months, it didn't show - it was still bright yellow and moist inside when cut open.

Half of the pumpkin found its way into this simple and delicious soup, slightly sweet in taste, smooth in texture and beautifully yellow in colour. Wonderfully comforting soup, let me tell you..

Pumpkin soup
Serves 4

1 kg pumpkin flesh, cubed
olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 Tbsp demerara sugar
1 litre of good vegetable stock (I used Marigold)
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves

Cut the peeled and seeded pumpkin into chunks, finely chop the onion.
Heat the oil in a saucepan, add pumpkin and onions and stir. Fry gently for about five minutes, then stir in the sugar.
Add the stock, season with salt, pepper and thyme. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, until the pumpkin has softened.
Pureé the soup in a blender until smooth. Re-heat, and serve with a dollop of cream and croutons (optional).

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Beetroot salad full of vitamins

All responsible Estonians* went to the polls last Sunday to elect 101 representatives to our national parliament, Riigikogu (unless they had cast their vote on the world's first parliamentary e-elections earlier, that is). To mark the occasion, K. and I had invited some friends over on Sunday night to feast on the cheese (toma della valle, toma al peperoncino and robiola rustica) and ham (la coppa, salami rustico, lardo di Arnad, bresaola, and mocetta) we had brought back from our Italian skiing-holiday, while watching the election results on the telly. During the five-hour eating, chatting and TV-watching session, we enjoyed the antipasti I had made during the day, and the tiramisu (K's first attempt, and very good one at that). There was plenty of food, though not much left over (we were 16 people plus kids, after all).

As always, after a night of lots of food, we took it easy on the following day. On Monday night I made this really light and simple beetroot salad for dinner, followed by the last two pieces of tiramisu. As there are lots of flu bugs around at the moment, we added plenty of vitamin-rich spring onions and parsley to the iron-packed beetroot, and added some balsamic vinegar to complement the inherent sweetness of this root vegetable so often and unjustly neglected by people.. We ate the salad with a slice of toasted ciabatta, but it would also make a lovely side dish to grilled meat or fish.

(And yes, it's natural light, in the late afternoon. The winter is finally on the way out, even if there's still snow outside ...)

Beetroot salad full of vitamins
(Peedisalat ürtidega)
Serves 2

2 beetroots, boiled
2 spring onions
a large handful of parsley
2-3 tsp balsamic vinegar
Maldon sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Peel the beetroot and cut into small cubes. Chop the spring onions (both green and white parts) and parsley, add to the beetroot. Season with balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and mix thoroughly to combine.

* That's 62 per cent of our population, if election turnout is an indicator:)

UPDATE 15.3.2007. Check out this rendition of my beetroot salad, courtesy of Sara of Sara ex machina

Friday, March 02, 2007

Après-Ski: Italy, Valle d'Aosta, Breuil-Cervinia

I survived my first ever skiing holiday. When K. told me in December that we'll be skiing in Breuil-Cervinia in the Italian Alps in February, my heart sank. Me? Downhill? I know how to ski, obviously, as Nordic/cross-country skiing is a beloved Estonian winter sport and part of the schools' PE curriculum here. But downhill skiing is a different story altogether. It's fast and dangerous and difficult and one could break all four limbs and it's cold 'up there' etc. I was terrified, to put it mildly, and took comfort in choosing a new skiing outfit (well, I didn't really need one in Edinburgh, and the one my mum sewed me some 20 years ago didn't fit any more). I also did research on what to eat and drink while in Valle d'Aosta, in case I did break my bones on the first day and needed to spend the rest of the week in the comfort of my hotel or a nearby cafe..

Well, eventually I enjoyed the holiday a lot. I am still surprised how much I enjoyed it:) We were a group of 10 Estonians, 4 Latvians and 4 Lithuanians, and most of the people were experienced skiiers. Luckily, there was two other persons who had hit the slopes for the first time, so we hired a teacher for two hours on the first morning. I'll save you the embarrassing details about me falling flat on my back on the 'Nuovo Baby Cretaz' carpet lift (khm) on Day 1, and my mis-adventures with proper ski lifts on the second day. It suffices to say that I stayed on the slopes for six days, almost didn't fall on some days, and advanced to the easier red slopes by the end of the trip. Most importantly, I was having a good time, and if invited, I'll happily go again next year.

The food? We stayed in one of the 'sport hotels' in town, and although the menu sounded good, the food was nothing to write home about. To be honest, the food was down-right dissapointing, truly badly executed, including the pompuous Mardi Gras feast on February 20th. If our group only hadn't booked the half-board packet (i.e. breakfast and dinner included), we would have probably never stayed for dinner at the hotel. And unless you enjoy driving up and down narrow and zig-zag mountain roads, you're stuck at the skiing resort without too many restaurant options apart from pizzerias..

We did make an effort to sample as many local salumi and cheeses as possible. Here's a plate of local cheese and ham we enjoyed on the first day of skiing:

Sliced toma cheese, and a white round of tomini; (from left to right) some mocetta ham (made from the mountain goat, I believe), deliciously soft lardo di Arnad (DOP); another local ham (Jambon de Bosses?); with a couple of candied chestnuts in the middle.

And here's a plate of grilled tomini cheese with bacon, enjoyed on the sixth day on one of the slopes, and accompanied by a mug of hot chocolate with rum:

We brought back some local cheese (incl. toma della valle, toma al peperoncino and robiola rustica) and ham which I may mention later on the blog.

We did leave the hotel for a more local foodie experience, to the great bafflement of the hotel receptionist (we still had to pay for our dinner for 20 in absentia, of course). We went to a ristorante tipico, La "Maison de Saussure", where we enjoyed a fabulous spread of antipasti of ham, cheese, roasted vegetables and chestnuts - already a meal in itself! We then familiarised ourselves with some local curiosities like zuppa valpellinentze consisting of cabbage, melted fontina cheese and rye bread in broth. This rustic dish was not everybody's cup of tea, whereas the grand finale, grolla dell'amicizia - the cup of friendship - was enjoyed by all (I'll write about that fortified coffee drink soon) .

There was one really lovely cafe called Bar Le Samovar that I frequented a lot, just in the beginning of the main street. Great music, lovely vibrant atmosphere, an impressive choice of teas and pastries and a good selection of alcohol. I became a 'regular' there, where the waitress didn't even ask for my choice of coffee on the last few days:) Here are a few pictures of various offerings:

A profitrole filled with very citrussy lemon cream; a small scallop-shaped puff pastry with rum cream; a banana-cola tartlet; a chocolate tartlet with a fancy chocolate topping; a small eclaire.

Two Chantilli cakes resembling mini versions of our lenten buns (and indeed, we ordered 40 of these for our group on Shrove Tuesday:); a pear and chocolate tartlet; a small tartlet with chocolate cream and truffle on top.

Lemon profiterole (again:); two ricotta-filled puff pastries; a crispy almon tartlet, among others.

Bar Le Samovar
3, Via Carrel
Breuil Cervinia (Ao)

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Food gifts: lemon and pistachio shortbread

My 85-year old paternal grandmother refuses to accept Christmas gifts. Or if she does, you can be pretty sure to find the given item - be it a book, a lovely shawl or a pair of woollen socks - in your next birthday or Christmas parcel, which is both cute and embarrassing. So years ago we decided to give her presents she cannot pass on - a newspaper subscription, a bottle of medicinal brandy or something similar. This year I gave her a gift-wrapped bag of home-made pistachio and lemon shortbread to devour with her daily cup of tea infusion.

I think she liked them:)

Pistachio and lemon shortbread
(Muredad pistaatsia-sidruniküpsised)
Recipe adapted from Epicurious (Bon Appétit, May 2004)
Yields 24 pieces

350 ml plain flour
125 ml sugar
125 ml semolina/cream of wheat
100 grams butter
2 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla extract
100 grams green pistachios, coarsely chopped

Heat the oven to 165°Celsius.
Butter a small square cake tin.
Mix flour, sugar and semolina in a bowl, add cold cubed butter and work through the dough with a knife until you've got fine crumbs. Add lemon zest and vanilla extracts, then work in the pistachios (this bit is best done with your hands).
Press the mixture into the cake tin, make indentions with a fork.
Bake at 165°Celsius for about 30-35 minutes, until the cookies are cooked but not yet browned.
Take out of the oven, let cool for 10 minutes, then cut into 24 squares.
Cool completely in the tin. Best kept at room temperature, covered with foil.
Eat within a few days.

PS I've made pistachio and lemon cookies before - check those out, too:)